The ABC of traditional values: Mercy

Konstantin Malofeev: Another part of the 'ABC of traditional values' is about mercy. We are talking about the letter "M" [Editor's note: in Russian, "mercy" is called miloserdiye, in Cyrillic милосердие].

Protopriest Andrei Tkachev: The first thing that comes to mind with this word is

"Open to us the gates of mercy, Holy Mother of God,

that we who hope in Thee may not perish,

but that Thou deliver us from our troubles,

For Thou art the salvation of the Christian race.

We are also reminded of the maxim in the Gospel, where He invites us to be like His Father and mentions only one virtue: 'Be ye therefore merciful, even as your Father is merciful'.

Our undertakings of fasting, abstinence, other privations, walking pilgrimages, are all good in their measure. But, of course, a person will be tested by works of mercy, as we always say, as we approach the week of the Last Judgement. Whether he has fed or not, whether he has dressed or not, whether he has gone to hospital or not, and so on. These axioms, these simple things are an indicator of what your heart is like.

Because a human heart can be a dog heart or it can be a pig heart. The scariest heart is not even a stone heart, because stone makes sounds. In the East, it is said that the most terrible heart is that of felt. It muffles blows, it does not even make a sound. And it is necessary to have a merciful heart. The key word is 'heart'. A kind heart. So, it is the sorrow of the merciful heart, according to Paisios [Editor's note: he is referring to Father Paisios of Mount Athos, a Greek Orthodox Christian monk who died in the concept of sanctity in 1994]: if a person's heart suffers because of another person's misfortune, then the Lord comes to that point of sorrow.

It is a cultivated thing, a consciously cultivated thing, which is not in fact already ready in man and which can be cultivated in him as a kind of ladder of perfection. Blaise Pascal said that all the matter in the world does not give rise to any thought. All the great collected thoughts of the world are less than a merciful action, the beating of a merciful heart. This is what life is about living. Life is living.

That is, we are still alive, not because of anything, but in spite of everything, and the only justification for continuing to live, for the light shining in the darkness, is that mercy has not left the world. If you silently walk away and close the door behind you, from then on people will start eating each other and you don't want to live to see it happen. I wish mercy would not leave the world.

Alexander Dugin: Mercy is a very important phenomenon, it has no measure. If justice can be measured - an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth - mercy cannot be measured, because it is always something more. It is always excessive. This is, in a sense, undeserved. We speak of mercy, for example, when we spare a defeated enemy. Perhaps, from the point of view of justice, he should be punished or even executed, but we pity him, and therein lies the undeserved mercy. This is the basis of Christianity.

After all, God gives Himself to torment, to death, undeservedly. He suffers for mankind, saves mankind undeservedly. We do not deserve this sacrifice, this suffering of God. And yet, it is there. And this is the most important ethical reference point. It seems to me that there is nothing higher than this. It is like love, which does not envy, which wants nothing in return. It is like a gift. Just a gift, without giving. It is a gift that spills over into all the norms of Christian society.

When we say that charity is a value, we orient our whole life differently. We discover that we are not to be selfish, not even rational or just, but something more. Mercy trumps justice. Even in theological systems, justice is the hard side, the left hand of God, while mercy is the right hand. It is the blessed right hand that is given to us as something we do not deserve.

When we realise how great this quality is, then our heart softens, it spreads within us. For we realise that we have obtained something that we should not have obtained. And if we remain as stale as we were, if our heart, as you say, Father Andrey, is made of stone or felt, what can we call ourselves?

It is simply shameful how much we receive and how little we give. Making charity a value of state policy is not a matter of individual acts of self-help. It is about changing the entire value system. It is about bringing it back to the Russian Christian worldview, which is our essence, our basis, our depth.

K.M.: The Christian understanding of the world says that mercy is superior to justice, and this completely contradicts all legislative principles. The law is mathematics: you have to follow what it says to the letter, and when we had orthodoxy in the law, we also had mercy. Until 1917. It was then that such a well-known textbook case occurred, when the lawyer Plevako won a case in one minute.

How did it happen? Plevako was sitting with another lawyer, they had to accept free clients. This is common practice both today and before the revolution. At the time, Plevako was already a famous lawyer. And he wrote: 'In three minutes, I will win the case'. And when they brought the priest, who was the defendant, he wrote: 'One minute'.

The priest was accused of stealing something from a cup in the church. Glewko came out and said: Gentlemen of the jury, he has forgiven you your sins for so many years, forgive him too. That was the end of it.

However, they could have forgiven. Now there is no such thing anymore. With the return of the word 'mercy' in the Fundamentals of our state policy, there should be many positive developments in terms of law reform. If we want to follow this principle, of course. Because right now, even the judge has very little 'fork' in making decisions.

The judge chooses between a larger or smaller measure, a longer or shorter term. If we have mercy as a principle, it means that it must be shown in everything.

So when a guardian comes to a home and sees that a child is living in poverty, but has a mother who works three jobs to support him and a grandmother who takes care of the child, he does not open the refrigerator and check how much juice is in it, but thinks with compassion about how to help that family, not how to take the child away from them. The most important thing in her mind should be her attitude towards the child, towards this family. And if the military commissar is collecting the mobilised people, he is not thinking about how to report to the authorities, but what to do to keep these people on the ground. Because he does not know, or his superiors have not told him, where to take them next.

All these qualities should enter our state and public life with the word 'mercy'. Because, as we said before, traditional Russian spiritual and moral values are Christian, evangelical values. And mercy is, of course, the word of the Gospel.

A.T.: Do you remember what Anton Pavlovich Chekhov wrote? "It is necessary that at the door of every happy and contented person there should be someone with a hammer, constantly reminding him, knocking, that there are unhappy people, that no matter how happy he is, sooner or later life will show him its claws, catastrophe will strike him - illness, poverty, loss, and no one will see or hear him, as he cannot see or hear others now.

The image of the world created by the Hollywood collective shows us an illusion of paradise, a kind of narcotic reverie. Computer games serve the same purpose. They create a kind of reverie in which a person, by deception, through a back door, enters an illusory lost paradise for a while. In reality, the truth is that there is a real paradise, but one has to get there through an earthly tragedy. Life is tragic enough even without wars. One cancer and one divorce are enough to mourn this life with bitter tears. And that is why we must be educated in compassion.

A rabbi told me that if a debt has been paid for me, I can legitimately love that person. If I have been saved by a knife or a bully, I will rightly love my saviour. But we have done nothing to make God love us, and His love for us is incomprehensible, it is beyond logic, it is not motivated by anything; and we must be like Him. Therefore, it is necessary to have compassion for those who suffer. Have pity on the fallen, with those who weep we weep, with those who rejoice we rejoice. All schoolchildren and high school students know that there are prisons in the world. And a trip to a prison will give them more insight into life than a whole month sitting at a desk.

Girls and boys should also know that there are geriatric boarding schools, hospitals, rehabilitation centres and children's cancer wards in the world. All this should be included in a person's education system. Because he should see how much the world is suffering. We live within the wound itself. "The wound of the world has passed me by, and life is alive regardless of my will," said Tarkovsky. It is possible to bring deep sorrow to life on the pain of the other - with the 'grafting' of the gospel.

What is mercy? It is the pain of me for the pain of another. And this is the way of likeness to God.

A.D.: By the way, here we can also include a notion such as mercy...


I implore pity and mercy, France,

your land and honeysuckle, -

wrote Osip Mandelstam. Mercy and mercy are side by side.

A.D.: With us, the word 'mercy' has taken on a kind of negative meaning. "To be merciful is shameful". "Mercy is degrading". "One should not pity anyone". Why should one not pity? Why not pity someone who is sick, who is suffering, who is deprived of something? In this pity the heart is softened. The heart becomes merciful, human. It is interesting, by the way, that in our ancient language the words 'mercy' and 'peace' have the same root.

For us, the Russian people, at the root of our understanding of what peace is, there is something sweet. That is, something soft, harmonious, imbued with grace. It has been said here that mercy rejects law. But in the Russian consciousness there has always been right and truth. There is law - it is a strict formal adherence to the law, which must also be, otherwise everything will be destroyed. But there has always been something even higher: truth. And mercy belongs to the register of truth.

K.M.: It comes from ancient law, from Christian law. "Russian Truth is derived from the Byzantine Epanagoge. And the Epanagoge is a later edition of the novels of the Emperor Justinian. And in the sixth novel of Justinian, it is clearly stated that in case of a discrepancy between the rules of law and the Christian, evangelical rules, the evangelical rules apply. This is the true spirit of the law.

Now, this remains in state and law theory only in the form in which moral norms are broader than legal norms. That is, for example, the norms of morality say that swearing is bad; but, according to the law, swearing is not only permitted in the media. It is not good to offend small children. The law, however, says: it is forbidden to be a paedophile, it is forbidden to hurt a child. That is why moral standards are broader than legal ones.

We are aware of this. But where this theoretical legal construction comes from, everyone has already forgotten. It was Justinian who said that Christian norms, given by God himself, are always superior. That is why the word 'mercy' is the way out of the indirect, closed, materialistic and secular legislative perimeter into the real world, where God's laws reign. Because mercy is God's law, not man's law.

A.T.: Confucius, may we also remember him today, said that we will not succeed in restoring order in the world if we do not make sense of words. Compassion is not shameful. Mercy is noble. Actually, what we are doing is restoring meaning to words, to stabilise the universe, as pathetic as that may sound.

K.M.: We were talking about the word 'mercy'. The letter "M".

Translation by Lorenzo Maria Pacini